The next wind to come rushing through American schools is the acronym S.T.E.M. —it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. That’s what we’re announcing is important for 21st Century schools. All of them have value, but also, all are cold, abstract, cerebral, used for weaponry and biological and chemical warfare or mindless entertainment and device addiction and hyper-speed. (And yes, also for possible cures to cancer.) So some educators protested and threw in a token A for Arts. So now it’s S.T.E.A.M. That feels better, though a heart-based intelligence is still outnumbered four to one.
But in the wake of all the murders of young black men by policemen excused from accountability by grand juries, I’d like to propose a new paradigm for schools, easily remembered. H. H is for the history that rarely gets told in school— and thus, we are condemned to repeat and repeat and repeat ad nauseum.
I’m talking about a real history, not the usual story of the winners told by the winners. A larger history that shines the light on her-story as well as his-story and includes the multiple voices of all those who were trampled under. A narrative that’s guided by an understanding of what justice looks and feels like, how real democracy is meant to work, how inclusion builds a healthy culture and exclusion hurts everyone. Imagine no child graduating without hearing the stories of Bartolomeo de las Casas, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Sitting Bull, Frederick Douglass, Homer Plessy, Mother Jones, Helen Keller (her political side), Emmett Till, Cesar Chavez and so on and so on. Students trained to analyze political situations from the point of view of who benefits and how they protect their privilege and how they shut down opposition so that when they read the newspapers, they’re prepared to say, “Oh, I recognize this.”
Instead, we have college students in Texas who don’t know who we gained independence from, who won the Civil War or who our current Vice-President is (check out aattp.org). The same students knew— all of them— what show Snooki is on and who Brad Pitt’s wives were. Our knowledge of history and understanding of what really went down is dismal and laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Democracy requires intelligence and information and we seem determined to shut it down with constant, mindless entertainment or S.T.E.M. programs. (Don’t misunderstand me here— I want doctors who can treat me, technology that gives me access to MLK speeches on Youtube, engineers who build bridges that hold up my car and bankers who can balance my checkbook. Any real rigorous program that trains the mind to analyze and think, to experiment and hypothesize and test results, is to be valued and could potentially help train the same mind to look at all of life logically and critically and not accept the nonsense that’s passing as “truth” with no basis other than spin. But why accent this over all the other important human qualities? It’s simply not enough.)
H also stands for Head connected to Heart connected to Hand connecting to Hearing and being Heard connected to Humanitarian promise and Health and Healing. A disconnected education is a dangerous education, turning out students who are all head and no heart or all heart and no head, who create things with their hands that can harm and only hear what they put on their portable device or what Fox news spews out.
So who’s with me to hype H as the new wave in 21st Education? I’m sure we can get Corporate Sponsorship and sweep the country with media ads and lobbyists and… Oh, wait. I just remembered that a citizenry who can think and feel and speak out individually and collectively is exactly what Corporate America doesn’t want. Ain’t never gonna happen. Except in subversive individual classrooms. Well, that’s a start. Let’s get going.